Diana's Desserts - www.dianasdesserts.com


Servings: Makes (2) 5 x 10-inch loaves
Flat and flour dusted, this classic Italian "slipper shaped" bread is characterized by its large irregularly sized and shaped holes. It begins with biga, Italian for "starter," a fermented-yeast mixture that lends superior flavor and texture to bread. Make the biga the day before you plan to bake this bread.

For the Biga: (the starter)
1 cup bread flour
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon instant active dry yeast
2/3 cup spring water, warmed to 100 degrees F (38 degrees C)

For the Dough:
3 cups bread flour
1/2 teaspoon instant active dry yeast
2 teaspoons instant dry nonfat milk
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/4 cups warm spring water (100 degrees F/38 degrees C)

1. Make the Biga: (Make the biga the day before baking the bread)
In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, yeast, and water and stir until smooth. Cover bowl with a clean, damp kitchen towel and let ferment in a warm, draft-free place overnight. The resulting mixture will be bubbly and light.

2. Make the Dough:
In a large bowl or food processor fitted with metal blade, stir together flour, yeast, dry milk, and salt. Add the biga and water. Use a wooden spoon to mix or process until a wet, sticky dough is formed. Beat 5 more minutes by hand, or process for 45 more seconds. The dough will be springy and wet. Scrape dough from sides of bowl and cover with a clean, damp kitchen towel. Let rise in a warm, draft-free place until trebled in size -- about 3 hours.

3. Shape the Loaves:
Liberally sprinkle a work surface with flour and, without punching down, turn the dough out onto it. Sprinkle the dough and your hands with flour and press to flatten the dough into a 6- by 6-inch rectangle. Divide the dough into two equal halves, cover with the damp kitchen towel, and let it rise for 30 minutes. Using well-floured hands, stretch each rectangle of dough to measure 5 by 10 inches. Gently turn the edges under about 1/2 inch to plump up the dough. Spread your fingers wide and, using your whole hand, lightly press the dough to flatten it to its characteristic slipper-like shape. Generously coat a baker's peel or a baking sheet with cornmeal and flip the dough over onto the peel. Rub flour over the dough surfaces, cover with a damp towel, and let rise for 30 more minutes.

4. Bake the Loaves:
Place a baking stone in the lower third of the oven and preheat for at least 30 minutes (to thoroughly heat the stone) at 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). Use a quick shoveling motion to slide each loaf from the peel or baking sheet onto the hot stone. Mist the inside of the oven with 3 or 4 sprays of water and bake until loaves are golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store in an airtight container.

Makes two 5 x 10-inch loaves.

Date: May 26, 2003